Don’t let the weather stop you grow­ing win­ter veg

Make the most of your plot by squar­ing up to the cold and, come the new year, you will be dig­ging in to the best, fresh­est health­i­est food

South Wales Echo - - Life Style - With David Domoney

COLD tem­per­a­tures have ar­rived and the trees are al­most bare, but that’s no ex­cuse to let your gar­den go dor­mant.

Win­ter veg­etable crops are a fan­tas­tic way to breathe life into your out­door spa­ces. Plus, they en­sure a fresh sup­ply of veg dur­ing the cold sea­son. So wrap up and grow your own.

Crops will thrive in rich soil when there is plenty of or­ganic mat­ter mixed in, so be­gin by re­mov­ing any nu­tri­ent-leach­ing weeds.

Use a fork to turn the soil over – it will im­prove struc­ture through aer­a­tion, and re­duce com­paction.

If you are not plant­ing im­me­di­ately, you can cover with tarp or bin lin­ers to help the soil re­main warm for re­ceiv­ing seeds later.

This will also pre­vent weeds ger­mi­nat­ing in your cho­sen spot.

To cre­ate a crumbly layer of top soil where del­i­cate young roots can grow, rake the earth into a nice tilth.

Soil prepa­ra­tion is key for a healthy har­vest and you can re­ally work up a sweat. To re­duce in­jury, it is best to warm up first so your mus­cles are not cold when you get go­ing.

You can also use long-han­dled tools to ease the strain and pro­mote bet­ter pos­ture when prop­a­gat­ing.

My win­ter win­ner of top of the crops has got to be the ever-hardy gar­lic, and now’s the time to plant them.

Al­lium am­pelo­pra­sum “Ele­phant” gar­lic is of­ten sold as gar­lic but is ac­tu­ally closer re­lated to leeks.

The in­cred­i­bly rich flavour makes it a mouth­wa­ter­ing in­gre­di­ent to cook with and it’s sim­ple to grow your­self.

To plant, place in­di­vid­ual cloves at least 2.5cm be­low the sur­face with space to give the bulbs room to swell.

Pro­vide your gar­lic with full sun – as much as there is, any­way – welldrained soil and a net­ted de­fence from birds, and you will have de­li­cious bulbs ready to crop in early sum­mer.

“Ger­mi­dour” is a late-ma­tur­ing va­ri­ety pro­duc­ing pur­ple skinned cloves, or for a well-rounded taste, try the hard­neck ‘Lautrec Wight’. These will pro­duce a flower stem that can be used in sal­ads and stir fries.

Douse crushed cloves in olive oil and smother on to crusty bread to toast your own gar­lic bread. This in­dul­gent treat will also boost your im­mune sys­tem – gar­lic has an­tibac­te­rial, an­tivi­ral and an­tiox­i­dant prop­er­ties.

An­other won­der­ful over­win­ter­ing crop is onion. Again, it is just the right time to get it in the ground.

Va­ri­eties such as “Set­ton” pro­duce ex­cel­lent yields of dark-skinned bulbs that store well.

Al­ter­na­tively, shal­lots such as “Pikant” boast smaller bulbs with red­dish skins and have good bolt­ing re­sis­tance. They’re grown from baby onions called sets – start plant­ing by re­mov­ing the loose skin at the top so the hun­gry birds can’t grab them.

A shel­tered spot in well-drained soil is best as damp soil can cause rot.

Plant each set 3cm deep with a good layer of mulch on top. Tasty onions should be ready to crop in late spring.

Spinach is an ex­cel­lent source of vi­ta­min C, K and A – vi­tal for bone health. This clever crop, which has va­ri­eties such as “Palco” or the win­ter-hardy “At­lanta”, will give op­ti­mal growth as the chill sets in.

Good air cir­cu­la­tion will stop mildew and a fleece cover­ing will pro­vide pro­tec­tion.

If the soil dries out, spinach will go to seed too quickly and turn bit­ter, so be gen­er­ous when wa­ter­ing. With ad­e­quate pro­tec­tion from slugs and snails, you will have tasty leaves in about six weeks.

Now is also the per­fect time to be plant­ing con­tain­er­grown fruit shrubs and trees in your gar­den.

That way, they will be able to ma­ture over win­ter and pro­vide a healthy crop when sum­mer ar­rives.

Opt for early crop­ping va­ri­eties of rasp­ber­ries such as “Glen Moy”, which bears heavy crops of medi­umto-large berries with a lovely flavour. Other fruit bushes to plant now

in­clude my favourites, red cur­rents and goose­ber­ries, which will dis­play a suc­cu­lent spring har­vest.

To plant fruit trees, be­gin by thor­oughly soak­ing the root ball so it is well-hy­drated be­fore plant­ing out.

Next, use a spade to dig a hole that is about three times as wide as the tree’s root sys­tem. Loos­en­ing the roots will en­cour­age them to grow fur­ther, rather than cir­cling around the base. Fi­nally, wa­ter thor­oughly and, for best re­sults, ap­ply mulch on top to keep soil moist and roots pro­tected. If your tree is top heavy or planted in a windy spot, use a short stake lean­ing into the pre­vail­ing breeze at a 45-de­gree an­gle.

Win­ter crop­ping is a re­ward­ing pas­time, pro­vid­ing you with a work­out and an abun­dance of nu­tri­ent-rich yield to de­vour.

An­other fan­tas­tic rea­son to crop till you pop this win­ter, is that your veg­gies will be fresher than those bought from the su­per­mar­kets.

As shop-bought pro­duce is not usu­ally sea­sonal, it can be stored for months at a time, re­duc­ing its nu­tri­tional value.

By com­par­i­son, once home­grown crops are ripe, they can be on your din­ner plate within min­utes.

It is worth not­ing that, gen­er­ally, if you leave your pro­duce on the plant un­til it is ripe, it will have more nu­tri­ents than if it’s picked early and al­lowed to ripen off the vine.

That is why it is al­ways best to har­vest at the last pos­si­ble mo­ment if you are grow­ing at home. So there you have it.

Plant now and have buck­ets of de­li­cious fruit and veg to en­joy in the new year.

Chop chop: Get gar­lic in the ground

Goose­berry (above) and red cur­rant bushes (right) can be planted now

Plot thick­ens: Don’t let the cold weather stop you from grow­ing won­der­ful win­ter veg

Soil prepa­ra­tion is key for a healthy har­vest

Fruit trees can also be planted

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